By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN – Gardai are to consider stepping up their action against the government this week in pursuit of their pay claim with further “blue flu” sick protests running for several days and major disruption of big sporting events this summer, including the Derby and the prestigious first visit of the Tour de France cycling race to Ireland.
The Garda Representative Association, on behalf of the 8,500 rank-and-file members, met Justice Minister John O’Donoghue last week, and though there was a “full and frank exchange of views,” little progress was reported.
The government had offered a 5.5 percent increase and later upped this to 7 percent, which was still unacceptable to the union.
Concerned about knock-on effects in the public service from conceding more, the government has said no more cash is available unless it is tied to productivity measures that will save costs.
The government claims full acceptance of the claim would mean increases of 39 percent, but the GRA disputes this.
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O’Donoghue is due to address the GRA conference this week and appeal for a return to the negotiating table.
Gardai are not permitted by law to strike, but the unofficial blue flu protest on May 1 was deemed a success by the union, with 80 to 90 percent absenteeism.
The GRA has already put a ban on the performance of non-public duties such as policing concerts. They have also stopped issuing speeding tickets – a major source of revenue – although motorists are receiving summons to appear in court.
This week the force will consider blue flu outbreaks that will last two or three days at a time.
During the May Day sickness protest, garda sergeants and higher ranks, which make up about 25 percent of the force, provided cover for absent rank-and-file men.
Leave was banned, overtime was granted and trainee and cadet members of the force were also used to man front desks and phones so the impact of the strike was minimized.
It could be more serious next time, however, as the representative body for sergeants has warned they will not provide extra cover in the future.
GRA general secretary P.J. Stone said police might take a “tentative” approach to strike.
“We have taken an awful lot of flak and heat in respect of what people would call a dishonest approach,” Stone said. “We perhaps might now take the ultimate decision in relation to taking a tentative sort of approach to strike.
“We can’t be seen as leaders of an association to be asking people to withdraw their labor because it is against the law. So effectively what we will be doing is setting out a plan of action to our members.